Tag Archives: the X-Men

Spotlight: X-Men – Rogue/Anna Marie

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Recently, I found a number of posts dealing with a topic I have addressed on my own blog. Apparently yours truly is not the only one to notice and take umbrage with the current fascination for creating so-called “strong female characters.” There have been a couple of articles on other sites dealing with the subject. I have read them and they have gotten the gears in this cranium turning, which lead me to today’s subject: the X-Man Rogue.

First off we will go down the list of Rogue’s abilities. Those familiar with her history in the comics and television will have to bear with me, because I am going to rehash some old storylines to keep everyone in the loop.

The Marvel newcomer who is not entering the multi-verse via the poisoned comics will find Rogue in the X-Men films. This version of Rogue is close but not quite the same as the one found in older comics and cartoons. There is no slight intended when I say that the film portrayal of the character is actually a poorer presentation than the original. Anna Paquin does a good job as Rogue; it is the writers and director(s) of the X-Men films who have mishandled the character.

Anyway, if you “met” Rogue in these films, then you know that her mutant ability is to absorb the memories, talents, and/or mutant powers of anyone with whom she comes into skin contact. You also think she got that white streak in her hair after Magneto force-fed his abilities to her before the final battle in the first movie, but she had that from the moment she appeared in the comics. (I do not like how they gave it to her in the films; it takes away from her character – in my ‘umble opinion.)

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I have stated many times that I do not like the X-Men films, so I am going to stop talking about them here and go straight to Rogue’s comic book and cartoon histories. Similar to the films, Rogue’s mutant power manifested when she and her boyfriend, Cody, were having their first kiss. Rogue was thirteen at the time and so she was more than a little frightened when Cody suddenly passed out mid-smooch.

Rejected by her family for being a mutant, Rogue ran away from home, afraid to make skin contact of any kind with anyone. Mystique, in a guise other than her real blue-skinned, red-haired form, found Rogue and recruited her into her latest cabal of mutant trouble makers. She practically adopted Rogue as her own daughter….

…But she treated her as a secret weapon, using Rogue to her advantage in fights with the X-Men. Rogue was completely loyal to Mystique because she had taken her in and given her direction when no one else had and when no one else would give her the time of day. She rarely balked when told to use her absorption abilities on an X-Man, security guard, or some other person Mystique wanted knocked out or who had information she desired.

The one instance I know of in the comics where Rogue refused to use her power was when Mystique told her to absorb Angel’s abilities. Rogue was afraid that she would grow wings like his, so she did not want to touch him. As you may know from watching the films, readers, the powers Rogue absorbs eventually fade away. The memories and skills she “downloads” along with them remain like “ghost files” in her head, but they do not (usually) bother her after a while. Prior to 2015, the writers made it possible for Rogue to “recall” individual powers and abilities she had previously stolen from people, something I consider cheating. But in the case I mention above, Rogue did not have that power and she feared she would be stuck with Angel’s wings permanently if she touched him, so Mystique did not get her way in that episode.

Eventually, Rogue’s servitude to Mystique led her into a fight with Carol Danvers. At the time Danvers’ codename was still Ms. Marvel, and so her uniform consisted of a black swimsuit with a yellow lightning bolt emblazed on the front. Because her suit had no sleeves or pants, she was a perfect target for Rogue’s absorption abilities.

Thinking Danvers would be easy enough to overcome, Rogue grabbed hold of her and started draining her powers.

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But unlike Rogue’s other opponents, Danvers did not immediately pass out. Since her powers come from Kree DNA that was somehow bonded to her body, Danvers possesses almost as much physical strength as Ben Grimm. She also has the ability to fire bolts of energy from her hands, sub-supersonic flight, indestructability, a ferocious Kree temper, and a precognitive “seventh sense” that allows her to see her opponent’s next move before it happens. I have never seen this last power demonstrated – and the number of times that Danvers has been smacked, thrown around, or otherwise hit makes me think she does not actually have this power.

Anyway, the Kree DNA kept Danvers awake longer than any of the other people Rogue had touched. It also fueled her anger and she started fighting back. Frightened by Danvers’ unexpected reaction to her powers, Rogue tried to let the woman go and make good her escape.

But Danvers would not let Rogue go. The two struggled for an eternity of minutes before they crashlanded. Once that happened Rogue discovered that, not only was she physically unharmed along with Danvers, but the other woman was out cold at last beside her in the dirt.

After this, Rogue found she had absorbed Danvers’ capabilities of flight, indestructibiliy, and superhuman strength. These powers did not fade over the next two or three days, as all her other “borrowed” powers had, and it looked like they were hers for keeps.

But she soon discovered that these fantastic powers came with a terrible price. Her prolonged contact with Danvers’ meant that she didn’t just have the woman’s memories and powers; Danvers’ psyche was stuck in Rogue’s mind and body at the same time Danvers’ own body remained in a hospital in a coma. Her personality – almost her entire being – was seemingly just as much Rogue’s property now as her powers were.

This unintended arrangement left Ms. Marvel less than pleased, and Rogue soon found she didn’t like it either. If Ms. Marvel really made an effort at it, she could commandeer Rogue’s body. Rogue would black out in one place and wake up in another, sometimes wearing Danvers’ suit or accoutrements and surrounded by the things Danvers enjoyed. This was more than a little frightening and upsetting for her, and it brought her to the realization that she had practically committed murder by absorbing Danvers’ mind into herself.

As Rogue’s guilt grew, she asked her “Mama” to find a way to make Danvers go away or to transfer her out of her body. But Mystique did not know how to do that and, what is more, she did not want to do that. She might have thought that Rogue could adapt to having Danvers in her mind or something like that, too, because she wanted Rogue to go on using her powers – despite the fact that her “daughter” was sharing space with another woman who could take control of Rogue’s body at the most unexpected or unwelcome moments.

This led Rogue to run away again. Knowing the X-Men as well as she did, she went to them for help in removing Danvers’ psyche.

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Her reception was not a warm one. Danvers had worked with the X-Men on more than one mission, so they considered her a friend (for what reason, I have no idea). Wolverine was especially upset, since he and Danvers were particularly close. (Again, I have no idea why they were such good friends. Danvers should have driven Wolvie half crazy ninety percent of the time, but this did not happen, probably because the writers were working overtime to make their “uber woman” more acceptable to their audience through her acceptance by the other characters in the Marvel Universe.) Aside from the Professor, no one on the team saw anything likeable about Rogue, and she was a virtual outcast in the team she had sought out for help, as well as to begin to make amends for her past misdeeds.

But Rogue did finally earn full acceptance by the X-Men, becoming one of their most valued members and friends. Wolverine ultimately thawed to her as well, to the point that he became her informal protector and mentor during her early days on the team. She has since become one of the most recognizable and loved characters in Marvel Comics, as evidenced by the fact that yours truly is a fan of her.

What does Rogue have to do with the push for feminization in fiction? For a long time in the comics and cartoons, Rogue’s most apparent abilities were the ones which she had stolen from Danvers, to the point that I, as a young viewer, thought they were her actual mutant powers. Throughout the 1990s comics and cartoons, Rogue would punch or throw the villains into walls, knock down buildings, or hold up heavy pieces of buildings during different battles.

This meant that she was able to shake off resultant punishment in a battle as well. While fighting several Sentinels in the 1990s pilot, one of the robots hit Rogue in the back with his fist, sending her smack into the floor. Lifting herself up on her hands and knees at the bottom of the crater, Rogue shot the robot a smile and chided it for its bad behavior. Then she flew up, grabbed it under the arm, and threw it to the floor, where it promptly flew to pieces.

That is a pretty impressive display of strength, you have to admit. And I was young enough that such displays excited me. I happily rooted for Rogue whenever she pulled off an amazing feat of strength like that. I was a young, impressionable child who loved superheroes. I wanted to be strong when I grew up, strong enough to fight evil the way that I saw my heroes fighting it every Saturday morning. It is completely normal.

I do not know when it happened, but after a while Rogue’s apparent superpowers stopped being the main reason for my interest in her. It might have been the episode where she and Nightcrawler learned they were related through Mystique, or it might have been a different show entirely. All I know is that, after a while, I liked Rogue for Rogue and not for her superpowers.

Again, you ask, what does all this have to do with the strong woman trope we are having forced on us in fiction today? Some people have said that the feats of strength Rogue pulled off in the ‘90s might have been overdone.

This is entirely possible, even probable, but I would like it if these critics would keep a few things about her in mind. Some of the reasons Rogue’s fighting style in the ‘90s (and before and after in the comics) may have looked improbable were because Rogue herself did not actually know how to use her strength, or she was relying on Danvers’ understanding of how to use increased strength during a battle.

And, because she had Danvers’ indestructability, Rogue might have thrown herself into certain situations for no other reason than to protect a teammate who would squish far more easily than she would. These are possibilities I would suggest for any maneuvers the writers had her perform which people find hard to believe. I think they should remember that, from Rogue’s point of view, these maneuvers might have seemed totally normal or reasonable to her, given what she knew of using her super strength. Rogue did not have the best education, which we’ll cover in more depth below, and so she did not and does not know as much about physics as readers/viewers and others do.

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The other thing viewers and readers should keep in mind when they watch Rogue fight is her absorbing ability. If she suddenly acquires the strength of the Unstoppable Juggernaut and begins throwing him around, it can look a little silly to us. Here is a girl who barely comes up to Juggernaut’s hip whirling him around over her head like a ragdoll. Under normal circumstances, it is totally implausible and stupid looking.

But Rogue is not normal, especially when she absorbs the powers of others. If she absorbs Juggernaut’s power, then she has his strength. Whether she has it in proportion to her size, weight, and height does not matter; you could drop a building on her while she has Juggernaut’s powers and she won’t even get a bloddy nose, for the simple reason that he would not get a bloody nose. Unfair? Maybe, but this is fantasy we are talking about here. We enjoy it precisely because it allows us to imagine stuff we cannot actually do.

The other thing to remember is that Rogue cannot just activate the powers she steals willy-nilly. She has to access the memories of the people who actually own these powers so she can avoid blowing up the countryside or flooding Manhattan. If she wants to use Juggernaut’s own strength against him, she will rely on his memories – muscle and conscious/subconscious – to make the best possible use of his powers. Juggernaut’s fighting style is not Rogue’s, nor should it be. But when she immerses herself, however shallowly she does it, in his memories this means that we will see her fighting the way that he does. It looks ridiculous, but when you keep this aspect of her powers in mind it becomes understandable and allowable.

Now this does NOT mean the writers should not be held to a high standard when they portray her pulling off these feats, but it does mean that it behooves us, as the audience, to remember the McGuffin that allows Rogue to survive these battles and/or perfom these stunts. It is a balance between the writers knowing their craft and the audience accepting the parameters of the story they are telling. Writers who abuse or talk down to their audience must rightly be called out for their arrogance. But an audience that will accept a good story with thousands of impossible McGuffins scattered throughout it should not throw stones in glass houses. That is my opinion, anyway.

Now we will discuss why Rogue is not an “SFC” or “Strong Female Character” in the vein that Carol Danvers, Thorette, and Thundra are.

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Long story short, Rogue does not qualify as the modern strong woman. First, her character design has fluctuated since the ‘90s and she no longer has the muscle structure of Ms. Marvel. Rogue is nothing like Carol Danvers, Thundra, or Thorette. These female characters are cardboard cutouts designed to appease and appeal to the Femi-Nazis, who are forever unhappy and whose hunger for the destruction of Western culture is utterly insatiable. It may appear from her 1990s debut – and, for all I know, some of Marvel’s newest stories – that Rogue qualifies as a “SFC,” but the fact is that Rogue is not a cardboard cutout, nor is she a strong woman in the sense that she is faster, smarter, and stronger than the guys.

One of the first people to admit that she is not smarter than almost anyone you could name would be Rogue herself. She is capable of outwitting an opponent and she is not stupid, but she is not a scholar, or a mechanic, or a super genius, or any of the other “SFC” tropes. What is more, she does not – or did not – pretend to be any of the above when I watched her on television and knew her in my limited way in the comics.

Most of the knowledge that Rogue possesses of higher mathematics, scholarly enterprises, etc., is knowledge that she stole from others. In the comics, Rogue ran away from home when she was thirteen. She spent years on the road after this, and a few more years under Mystique’s “guidance” before joining the X-Men. I do not think there was a lot of time in there for regular schooling, do you, readers? No, there was not. So this means her formal education ended, practically speaking, after she left home.

Now Danvers went through all the schooling necessary to become an Air Force pilot and Jane Foster – who used to be a perfectly respectable character – had to go through extensive schooling and training to become a nurse. We are just supposed to accept that Thundra, being from an alternate universe where women are the dominant sex (ignore the barfing sounds on the other side of the screen, please, readers) is naturally smarter than any man on this Earth or her own – though it is funny how she never shows it.

None of the above applies to Rogue. Everything she has learned since she discovered her powers has been taught to her by circumstance and by the consequences of her choices; her smarts were earned in the school of hard knocks, not in a brick and mortar building. Danvers, for all her supposed superiority to men, learns nothing from the battles she takes a part in. The evidence of this is that she is one of the few Marvel characters with no ability to resist telepathic control for even a fraction of a second. Rogue has had to learn to be tough to survive; Danvers survives through the writers’ stubborn intent to keep her alive.

In moments of downtime in the 1990s series, Rogue also had a generally cheerful demeanor. She smiled, laughed, and joked regularly; this showed that she was someone who genuinely loved life, despite the numerous punches she had been dealt by it.

In contrast, Danvers’ sense of humor is thinner than cellophane plastic. When she teases or jokes, it sounds tinny and unreal; when she smiles, it does not soften her features. It makes her look like she is stretching her face to the breaking point.

Something else that differentiates Rogue from the “SFC” trope is that she is vulnerable. I read a book some time ago by Fr. Dwight Longenecker called The Romance of Religion. One of the interesting things he mentions in the book is that hero(es) of stories tend to have a fault or a wound that they must bear as they do their duty or carry on their quest.

Looking out over most of fiction – and especially Marvel – I have to think he is on to something here. From Spider-Man to T’Challa, from Captain America to Punisher, from Hawkeye to Ben Grimm, most of Marvel’s characters have some sort of emotional injury that they carry with them wherever they go. And ninety-nine point nine percent of them have character flaws they have to either overcome or continually wrestle to control – although by now, that fact is out the window. In Marvel’s – and our – brave new world, flaws are to be embraced, not resisted. They are natural to us while self-control is just an artificial restraint society uses to keep us down. (Yes, I am being sarcastic, readers.)

In the original stories, Rogue’s great emotional weakness was her inability to make skin contact with another human being – or any other being, for that matter. She had to wear longsleeved shirts and long pants, as well as gloves, all the time. She could not pat Wolverine on the hand with her own bare hand. She could not let someone brush up against her arms if her shirt, jacket, or suit somehow lost its sleeves – and she could never, ever kiss a man for more than a few seconds. And even the briefest of kisses would be dangerous for him.

This last was particularly painful for her because, during the ‘90s, Gambit was actively courting her. Oh, he would flirt with plenty of other girls during the series, but the one he consistently went after with every ounce of charm he could muster was Rogue.

Usually, Rogue would flirt back, but that was as far as she could and would let it go. Aside from two different times that I know of where Gambit kissed her, Rogue had to put her glove over his mouth and kiss that to show her feelings for him. On more than one occasion, her frustration with her inability to safely touch someone, anyone, would drive her to anger and/or cause her to make an avoidable mistake.

This was Rogue’s greatest vulnerability, but she had others. When captured along with the other X-Men by Mr. Sinister and his Nasty Boyz in the ‘90s TV series, Rogue admitted to Gambit that she was scared. Sinister had found a way to block mutant powers in this episode, which meant that both Rogue’s innate absorption abillities and the powers she had taken from Danvers were suppressed. “I don’t know how to fight these guys without my powers,” she admitted to Gambit.

Now, readers, can any of you name one single time that Carol Danvers has admitted that she is afraid of something/someone? I cannot. To the best of my knowledge, Danvers has never once shown fear. She might – MIGHT – show concern, but most of the time when she is captured or in a situation that looks grim, she just becomes angry. Thorette seems to be going the same route, while Thundra has always had a demonstrable temper and no real sense of, or respect for, fear.

Rogue certainly has a temper, but in this episode, anger was the furthest thing from her mind. Her primary emotion was fear because she did not know how to fight without using her powers. What “SFC” shows or admits to fear? I do not know of any, but if you can name me one, readers, I will look into her.

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In the series that followed the ‘90s X-Men, the writers changed Rogue’s appearance. They dropped Ms. Marvel from the series’ storyline and left Rogue to rely on her absorption ability alone. They also gave her and the rest of the teenage X-Men close combat and weapons’ training.

While this was a plus for Rogue, leaving her a way to protect herself if she could not somehow bring her mutant powers to bear, in my opinion the writers did make one mistake with her characterization in this series: Evolution showed Rogue as an anti-social teenage girl who was into Gothic makeup and clothing. Forget that her makeup would not have lasted five seconds in battle (yet it somehow lasted the entire series), the change in her demeanor was not something I think was really necessary. Rogue did well in the series but I did – and do – miss the cheerful zest for life she exhibited in the ‘90s.

Personally, I suspect the writers gave Rogue more angst because they thought it would sell. It must have, because the series lasted four seasons. Her tendency to brood and lose her temper did not detract from her willingness to help others, which was good, and this demeanor did give her a chance to connect with Wolverine as a father figure. While this last was especially nice, I still miss her earliler deportment a lot. If Marvel ever rights itself and starts telling good stories again, I hope they give Rogue back the joi de vive she had in the ‘90s.

One other good thing about Rogue’s appearance in Evolution was her shorter hair. It is a well known fact that sexual predators target women with long hair because then they can grab hold of it and use that hold to force the woman to go where they wish. Such a hold is painful – if you do not believe me, readers, try it on yourself. (Trust me, it hurts.)

One of the strange things that writers for modern films and stories – including comics – keep doing is they are sending their heroines into combat with long hair. This is silly, as it can be a weakness; the heroine’s hair could catch in a machine and suck her down a hole, or her opponent(s) could grab it and use that hold to keep her still. Your heroine may look great with long hair, but remember, readers and writers, that even Princess Leia’s hair was done up in such a way that a Stormtrooper couldn’t grab it and yank her back. There was also no chance of her long locks getting caught in the Millenium Falcon’s inductors because it was pinned up and out of the way.

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Allowing men into combat with beards is no more practical than sending women into a fight with long hair. (Yes, I AM looking at Cap’s beard in Infinity War.) One of the reasons the Romans shaved was so that, when they got into personal combat with an enemy, he would not be able grab the Roman’s beard and hold him immobilized long enough to behead him. Ask the Romans how they know about this.

Now most stories are fantasy, of course, and in some cases you can actually excuse the female characters’ long hair (who is going to be able to get close enough to Storm to grab her hair, I’d like to know?). However, Rogue’s shortened hair is not a problem for me, nor is her more feminine muscle tone.

This is why I do not and cannot see Rogue as the Feminist ideal of female superiority. Rogue is a normal woman with a power that she sees, with justification, as a curse rather than a gift. She has insecurities and fears; she makes mistakes and she is not well-educated outside of life’s hard lessons. Her strength does not come from her superpower or the powers she steals – it comes from her williness to fight evil. It comes from her desire to protect her friends and to make up for her errors in judgement. It comes of her willingness to consistently choose to be a heroine, even when doing so hurts her the most.

This is why she is one of my favorite X-Men and one of my favorite Marvel characters. This is why I cannot consider her a member of the “SFC” club, at least in her previous portrayals in the comics and cartoons. These days I can believe that Marvel would erase her from its canon if the banana brains in charge thought that would get them new subscribers and buyers. If they are going to try and make her the big, strong female character stereotype, they will ruin her as they have ruined all the other characters they are abusing.

But there is nothing I can do to stop them from torturing themselves like this. And at this point, telling them, “Hey, your company is bleeding money all over the place,” appears to be a waste of breath. If they want to bankrupt themselves, then nothing I say or do will stop them. I can only hope that when that happens, someone who loves the characters will buy the company and that they will hire good writers to clean up the mess. And yes, I would volunteer to be one of those writers in a heartbeat.

I hope it does not come to that, but it looks like it might. But if there is one thing Marvel’s myriad heroes have taught me, Rogue included, it’s that even when you get punched in the teeth, it does not mean the battle is over. It just means you got punched in the teeth. That is no reason to give up the fight.

So no, I do not intend to stop fighting. Only dead fish go with the flow, and I do not intend to be a dead fish. There is more than one way to fight, and the best way to fight Marvel’s current hierarchy is to introduce potential new Marvel fans to original Marvel fare.

In the interest of doing that, I recommend that you look up the 1990s X-Men televsion series, readers. Then study up on the characters in it, along with Marvel’s other heroes and heroines. Read between the lines; it is not the battles the characters take part in that are important, or the powers they wield, or the atrocities the current writers are making them commit –

It is who they are as characters that is important. This is what Marvel has decided to forget….

…..So this is what we have to remember and pass on to others.

EXCELSIOR!!!!

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A Review of Avengers Assemble’s “Inhumans Among Us”

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I have said many times that I do not enjoy the X-Men movies currently being produced by Fox Studios.  The films are focused mostly on special effects, noir themes, and have too little hopefulness in them.  The characters – aside from Wolverine and a fortunate few others – receive very scattered, haphazard treatments which do not help them grow and which do not exercise their individuality to the full.  I am continually bewildered by reviewers who proclaim that the latest X-Man film is a hit.  The X-Men franchise is barely treading water compared to the Avengers’ franchise, from the numbers I remember having seen.

What does this have to do with the Avengers Assemble episode “Inhumans Among Us”?  In this show, Blackbolt and the Inhuman royal family of Attilan descend on a town which has been doused in contaminated Terrigen Mist.  This results in a human from the town, who has Inhuman heritage, undergoing Terrigenisis – the process by which Inhumans gain their superpowers.

For those who do not know about the X-Men or the Inhumans, the two have their similarities and their differences.  Marvel’s X-Men are a superhero team composed of mutants.  In the Marvel Universe(s), mutants are humans born with an advanced X-gene.  This gene usually activates in the mutant’s teen years, giving them access to superpowers built into their DNA.  This occasionally leads to their transforming in appearance physically to resemble an animal or to appear non-human in some other manner.  Some mutants can use their powers or look different from birth, but most discover their abilities when they become teenagers.

Inhumans are only slightly different.  Descended from humans who were experimented on by the alien Kree millennia in the past, Inhumans are also born with superpowers programmed into their DNA due to Kree meddling all those years ago.  Which type of superpowers they will have is unknown to Inhumans initially.  Also, it does not seem that a certain power, such as hydrokinesis or super strength, is passed down from Inhuman to Inhuman through direct inheritance.  For instance, an Inhuman man who is a telepath can marry an Inhuman woman who is an empath, but their child will somehow end up with superhuman strength instead of either of his parents’ powers.

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Inhumans can live normal lives without their powers.  They will have above average strength, immunity, and longevity, but they will not manifest superpowers.  Their powers will be activated only through exposure to the Terrigen Mists, a gaseous cloud released by Terrigen Crystals taken from the Kree.

Terrigen Mist will not hurt normal humans.  But if a normal human so much as brushes up against a Terrigen Crystal without some sort of protection, it has an immediate and deadly effect on them.  The Terrigen Mist permeating the town in “Inhumans Among Us” thus does not harm Cap, Thor, Iron Man, Falcon, or the Hulk.  Admittedly, only Falcon and Cap would have had to worry.  Hulk is protected by his Gamma radiation, Tony by his armor, and Thor is Asgardian. Thus the Prince of Thunder is immune to so much as the common Earth cold.  Terrigen Crystals would be among the least likely things to harm him.

This episode serves as the Avengers’ first meeting with the Inhumans in Assemble.  Prior to this, only the Hulk had had contact with the Inhumans in the episode “Inhuman Nature,” a show from his own two season series Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H.  Thor may have known of the Inhumans prior to this Avengers episode.  But if that is so he had not met them more than once or twice.  And in those cases he may have been on diplomatic missions to Attilan, or they might have been visiting Asgard for political reasons.

When the Avengers and the royal family discover a strange cocoon in the town library, the team fears the thing may be the result of a deadly virus capable of wiping out innumerable people.  But when the Inhumans recognize it and try to politely force the team out of the conversation – as well as the library – the Avengers realize that whatever the cocoon is, the royal family knows it is not dangerous.  And, what is more, they certainly do not want the Avengers finding out what it is.

But when Tony tells Blackbolt – rather politely, all things considered – that the Avengers are not going anywhere without answers, the alliance the two factions formed at the beginning of the episode disintegrates.  Gorgon responds to Tony’s statement by throwing him through the walls, across the street, and into the next building.  Then the rest of the royal family attacks the bewildered Avengers in order to “protect” the cocoon.

“Inhumans Among Us” was a very disheartening episode for me.  Why?  The Avengers went out of their way to be friendly and helpful to the Inhuman royal family.  They had no intention of hurting them, and once they knew that the cocoon was for a newly awakened Inhuman, they were ready to help Blackbolt and the others calm him down.  In contrast, the Inhumans looked xenophobic and intolerant, displaying violently the prejudices which they claimed the Avengers were demonstrating.

This is my key disappointment not only with the episode, but with the general trend in all things X-Men, Inhuman, and now most of Marvel.  The writers are devoting too much energy trying to make everyone in every demographic feel included.  The problem with this is that when you try to please everyone, you please no one.  Stressing differences between people instead of similarities fractures the very unity which you are trying to build.

The X-Men at the end of Marvel's X-Men: Evolution

The X-Men at the end of Marvel’s X-Men: Evolution

In the comics written from the turn of the century to 2015, all the X-Men did was whine about the fact that normal humans would never accept them.  They became so fixated on this that the team split in half; then one half went to war with the Avengers.  The royal family in “Inhumans Among Us” showed the same blasted tendency, leaping to the conclusion that since the Avengers had no idea what the cocoon was and feared it might be an infection, they would react with extreme intolerance against it.

Instead of doing the sensible thing, which was to explain what the cocoon was, the Inhumans went berserk and wrecked half a town attacking the Avengers – all without provocation.  It was suspicion and fear which motivated the Inhumans.  The Avengers were left trying to pierce that fog with clear reasoning; but reason makes no headway against deeply entrenched unreason.  Hence the destruction of half of a small town within the episode.

The Inhumans also assumed that since the person inside the cocoon was an Inhuman by inheritance, they alone would automatically be able to calm him down and get him to see sense.  They forgot that they had voluntarily cut themselves off from humans for so long that most people in the Marvel Universe(s) have no idea who or what they are.  What if the new Inhuman came out and, added to his confusion over his new powers, was confronted with people he had no idea he could trust?  What if, due to his confusion and fear of his unknown “rescuers,” he attacked them – his supposed “kind” – maybe even killing one or two of them in the process?

Even though they do not seek it, the Avengers are world famous.  They are easily recognized by anyone who has not been living without a television, radio, or the Internet.  Even the denizens of small towns know of and instantly recognize them.

In such a situation as exhibited in “Inhumans Among Us,” this would make the Avengers invaluable in helping to calm down a new Inhuman who had never known he was anything but human.  If the royal family had been thinking, not reacting, they might have realized the team would be an asset in this circumstance and not a threat or a hindrance.

But the writers ignored that possibility completely.  Why?  Why would they have the Inhumans jump to the conclusion of discrimination and fear?  Why would they write a story where the Avengers could be construed as aggressors instead of as calm, reasonable people?  (Interestingly, the episode portrayed them in this positive light instead of the intended negative view.)

The Avengers have accepted mutants, humans, Inhumans, aliens, androids, and at least one synthetic being as members throughout their history.  They do not care about a teammate’s skin color, gender, or what-have-you; they care about the person who wants to use their skills to help defend the world.  This is a proven track record that goes back to the time when Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, Gypsies and former enemies of the X-Men, were given membership on the team.  It goes back to Black Panther’s acceptance by the team.  Falcon’s membership in the team was accepted with facility as well, despite the government’s interference in the matter.  The Avengers are not a passel of small-minded bigots.  They never have been.

Yet recently there is a documentable effort to push them into this position.  While the team has never been anything short of hospitable to every proven hero, reformed convict, or good android, the Avengers keep getting thrown into conflict with people who claim they are not what they have shown themselves to be time and time again.  And these people, often allies of the Avengers, should know better than to claim this insanity.

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In recent comics, the X-Men are the guiltiest party.  Accustomed to being discriminated against, they had previously battled the Avengers several times, until someone calmed down enough to listen to the Avengers explain why they showed up.  This once led to reconciliation after reconciliation between the teams, something which was tossed out after the Avengers vs. X-Men event.  In an attempt to heal that mess, Cap started the Unity Squad, a team which was composed of Avengers and X-Men.  He hoped to bring the two factions together through this new team.

But his plan was in many respects an unmitigated disaster, as the X-Men refused to see eye-to-eye with their new teammates, particularly the Scarlet Witch.  Yeah, yeah, yeah, she wiped out most mutants’ powers earlier in the decade after going nuts and getting mad at Magneto.  How many times have members of the X-Men – not to mention mutants in general – wanted to be rid of their powers?  Besides which, by the end of A vs. X, the mutant population had been restored.  There was no reason to keep picking on Wanda – no reason except to spite her, Cap, and their Unity Squad teammates from the Avengers.  Who wants to put up with all of that negativity?  Not me, thank you.

Once upon a time, the X-Men were allowed to make friends with non-mutants in a TV series.  The 1990s series saw the team become friends with Senator – later President – Kelly.  A mutant-hating politician who came to recognize the humanity of mutants through the aid of the X-Men, he became one of their best supporters and friends.  Beast made friends with a human scientist in X-Men: Evolution, the same series where Nightcrawler had a normal human as a girlfriend.  And the number of normal humans the X-Men befriended in the comics is so long I would have to look it up to make a comprehensive list!

But by the time Wolverine and the X-Men TV series aired, this arrangement had largely been flushed down the toilet.  The episodes that came closest to making the point that humans and mutants were different in terms of genetics only were the introductory shows and “Code of Conduct.”  In that episode, Wolverine had to fight the Silver Samurai, who was married to his old flame Mariko Yashida, a normal human woman from Japan.  The rest of the series focused on the war brewing between mutants and humans because of the latter’s’ hatred for the former.  And the X-Men were bent on avoiding a blasted apocalyptic future where all but a few humans and mutants had been killed by the Sentinels.

Did the writers ever consider that by befriending normal humans the X-Men could make greater headway in circumventing this future?  No, they did not.  It was all X-Men vs. Brotherhood, X-Men vs. the MRD, or X-Men vs. Magneto and his Acolytes.  Let’s just lie down and die already, huh?

This different approach had started out in the comics, which began tearing the X-Men away from Professor X’s original dream of peaceful mutant/human coexistence.  It is as though, having reached a post-mutant-hating era, the writers decided to tear down all their good work and reset the original status quo.

But how exactly is this a good thing?  If you are so determined to build a platform of peaceful coexistence, why suddenly turn around and destroy it once it is built?  What can you possibly gain by this?

I once suggested an answer:  if everyone in the Marvel Universe became a mutant overnight, then the X-Men’s use as a team fighting for equality for mutants would go up in smoke.  Likewise, if you wipe out all mutants (an impossible task even for the Scarlet Witch), their reason for existence also disappears.  It seems that the Marvel writers, whether they realize it or not, are carrying out the second possibility – with unprecedented vigor.

In so doing they have neglected the third potential avenue for the team: could the X-Men not change their mission from peaceful coexistence to protecting the Earth, just as the Avengers do?  They have powers, gifts above the norm.  The achievement of one dream does not mean that you get to sit on your laurels or break off to follow your own pursuits.  It certainly does not mean you get to destroy your hard work.  It means you go out and get a new, better dream.

The imprisonment, death, or changed hearts of the X-Men’s old enemies does not mean they will never have new ones.  If the bigots who hate mutants are reduced, as had been suggested in comics in the early 2000s, to a minority, then that frees the team to fight on a wider field and for an even higher cause:  the protection of the two races from unsavory characters on Earth or in the galaxy.

Image result for avengers assemble Inhumans among us images

The Inhumans have suffered in a similar way.  Having existed as a race for millennia, they retreated from humanity to avoid persecution.  Living in hidden cities, they created their own culture, form of writing, and technology.  However, having made contact with humanity again, they continue to react intolerantly against normal humans first in an attempt to protect themselves.

How is this sensible?  How is this a “more highly evolved” attitude than that of normal humans?  If anything this reaction proves that you can build superhuman powers into humanity, but you cannot change human nature, no matter how hard you try.

Both of these teams have fallen into the bigoted tendencies that they either once fought against or retreated from facing.  Once the receivers – or potential receivers – of these attitudes, they are not willing to give rational normal humans the benefit of the doubt.  They instead react prejudicially toward them.

This is what saddens me the most about “Inhumans Among Us.”  Marvel, just like most other media institutions and academia, cannot let go of these hatreds.  Once seeking to fight against them, they have now become their biggest propagators.  They claim they are still combating intolerance when in fact they have embraced it.

This is the main reason I lost interest in the X-Men and never had much interest in the Inhumans.  If they are not willing to let go of past hurts and fears, then they will eventually become the new aggressors, the new bigots, the new haters.  Their writers have already fallen prey to this mentality, all the while thinking that they are helping to eradicate it in others.  They are not.  They are further dividing their audience, having succumbed to their own preconceptions of what is tolerant and intolerant.

This is a hard truth to speak, readers.  It is an even harder truth to hear.  We all like to think we are good people.  Only the most vile are exempt from this.  Everyone else thinks that because they have good intentions they are in fact good people.

But good intentions accomplished through bad means end up being evil deeds.  A lot of the people who supported the Nazi Party had good intentions.  They wanted their country to be strong again, they wanted their currency to be worth something, and they wanted their national and cultural identity to be respected.  But how many people – Jews, Catholics, Gypsies, and others – paid the price for those good things to “come about”?  How many died because the Russians who supported the Soviet system envisioned by Lenin and implemented by Stalin “just” wanted to make the lives of their fellows better?  And how many good-intentioned people ended up losing their heads under Madame Guillotine’s “gentle” administrations during the French Revolution?

The answer to these questions is:  too many.  Are we to repeat these well-intentioned people’s mistakes?  Mistakes are to be learned from but, if you learn the wrong lesson, you end up with the same result.  You just get there by a different path.

We learned the wrong lesson.  And we are beginning to pay the price.  If we do not stop and ask ourselves, honestly and without fear, what we are actually doing wrong…. then we will end up in the same place and in the same hellish circumstances.  And it will have happened all for the sake of “good intentions.”

The truth is all we need seek when we ask these questions, for the truth and The Truth are all that will set us free.  Everything else are traps and darkness, for the soul if not the body.   One is more precious than the other and needs greater care because of that.

Look for the truth, readers, and do not stop until you find it.  It is the only thing worth finding, the only thing worth living for…

And the only thing worth dying for.

The Mithril Guardian

Image result for Inhumans among us images

Some Captain America: Civil War “Easter Eggs”

There were a lot of “Easter Eggs,” as they are called, in Captain America: Civil War. I did not see them ALL, but I noticed/thought of a few to share with you, readers.

For one, is it not interesting how much the Accords anger Sam Wilson/Falcon? This may hearken back to the original comics. In the “mainstream” Marvel universe, the government had tried to control the Avengers back in the 1970s (I think). They reduced the team’s active roster to seven individuals whom they selected.

One of their choices was Falcon, who loved being an Avenger. Already a long time partner of Cap’s in the other’s solo series, Sam was happy to finally be a part of his friend’s exclusive superhero club. What he did not love about the arrangement, though, was why the government put him on the team.

The government wanted the Avengers to be a “more diverse” team, and so they added Sam to the active roster simply because he was black. No other reason. Not his fighting skills, which he had honed at Cap’s side; not his empathetic link with his trained falcon Redwing – heck, not even his wing pack was the reason they chose him to be on the team!

No. They chose him because of his race, so they could make a political point/gain a political advantage from his life. Yeah, that is super flattering, isn’t it?

Sam’s attitude with his teammates was genial, fun-loving, and practically sunny during this time. His relationship with their government liaison, Henry Peter Gyrich, was stormy and antagonistic. He hated being a token player, and he was not afraid to say so in front of the public. Sam wanted to be an Avenger on his own merit – which he was, in the eyes of his teammates. But the government put him on the team just to make a statement.

And Sam hated that.

So his dislike of the Accords in Civil War could be seen as a nod to this, in a way. Sam fears he and his friends will be locked up in a dungeon somewhere to rot if they sign the Accords, and his fears are well founded. History has shown that when one signs one’s freedom away it is almost impossible to get it back. The only way Sam and the rest of Team Cap regained their liberty in the movie was through outside help from Steve. And even now that they can breathe the free air again, the law considers them criminals. Outlaws with no Sherwood Forest to inhabit, Team Cap is going to have to do some fancy flying until the Infinity War films.

I think they can pull it off, though.

Now, about that fight Clint and Vision had when the archer went to pick up Wanda at the Compound. In the original comics, Hawkeye is (or maybe now was) the same age as the Maximoff twins. He became enamored of Wanda and was always flirting with her. The Scarlet Witch never returned the favor; she did not hate Clint, but she certainly seemed to find his advances annoying.

When Vision came along, Wanda fell head over heels in love with the android. After a while, the Vision developed his own personality and reciprocated the Scarlet Witch’s feelings. The two announced that they wanted to get married, which caused a huge ruckus. Quicksilver, for one, did not want his sister marrying a synthetic man.

And Clint was not happy about this sudden competition for Wanda’s affections, though by this point the battle was already lost. Neither Wanda nor Vision would be swayed, and they finally tied the knot. After they did this, Hawkeye left the Avengers because he could not stand to see the Scarlet Witch married to someone else.

Thankfully, this romantic triangle is NOT part of the film! Hallelujah!!!!! I am soooo happy!!!!

Okay, fan victory lap complete. Next!

Right, I said I was going to give you a bit of trivia about Wanda. When Tony goes to the Raft, the first inmate he sees is the Scarlet Witch, who is wearing a straight jacket and shivering in her prison cell. The manner of the Maximoff girl’s incarceration here is probably a nod to X-Men: Evolution. In that television series Wanda’s father – Magneto – had her locked up in an insane asylum because she could not control her anger, which made her probability manipulation powers run wild. While she was there she ended up wearing – guess what? – a straight jacket. She did not enjoy it in that series, either.

The inhibitor collar we see Wanda wearing in her last scene during the movie was not part of her incarceration in Evolution. However, such collars are a fixture of X-Men lore. These devices are the only things the comic book authorities have which are capable of suppressing mutant powers. Heh, I guess Disney/Marvel got something mutant-related into their films under Fox’s nose after all!

As an interesting side note, while I do not know how likely it is, if the film writers want to keep pulling plot points and tidbits from the comics, we may see Wanda in a mid or end credits scene in Doctor Strange this November. In the original stories, Wanda’s probability manipulating powers were so hard for her to control that she went looking for help to get them totally under her command.

Her choice of tutor, however, was rather… unconventional. Agatha Harkness, a bona fide witch/sorceress from Salem, Massachusetts, taught Wanda enough magic for the younger woman to make her “hex” power more stable and reliable. In doing this, Harkness realized that Wanda had great potential in the realm of magic. This led to Strange calling on the Scarlet Witch from time to time for help fighting his occult enemies. Eventually, Wanda tapped into this magical potential, becoming the “mainstream” Marvel universe’s most powerful sorceress.

This led to her going loopy at least two, perhaps three, times in the “mainstream” comics. She destroyed the Avengers (and Hawkeye) the first time. The second time, she eradicated most of the mutant powers on the planet (along with Hawkeye, temporarily). The third time, everything else in the Marvel “mainstream” universe was also flying haywire, so Wanda’s mental instability in that event was almost negligible.

Wanda’s powers in the films have so far given no real sign of being out of her control. Still, the writers could pull anything out of their hats between Civil War and the Infinity War films. This is speculation, of course, but it bears mentioning.

Now, about the Raft itself. In the comics, the Raft is a high security super villain prison. Not that you could tell, since it has been subject to prison breaks in the past. Designed to be something of an East Coast equivalent to Alcatraz, the Raft is farther out in the Atlantic in Civil War than it is in the comics. In the books, the Raft is on an island. In the film, it is an island! (It is also, apparently, kept under water until the people running it are expecting visitors.)

During the comic book Civil War, Tony and the government enforcers for Superhero Registration working with him incarcerated captured anti-Registration heroes in an inter-dimensional super villain prison known as 42. 42 was really not a safe environment for the captured heroes. Of course, since Marvel was determined to make Tony a villain (they had succeeded last I looked), this hardly mattered to him or his bosses. The heroes under Cap’s leadership who were caught were bundled off to 42 without a trial, public or otherwise, and left to rot with the criminals they had spent their lives bringing to justice.

The film, of course, could not handle the intricacies of such a prison, so the Raft was substituted in its place. That is all right by me. I do not think I could have handled 42 being jammed into the movie! The Raft was a perfect substitute – especially since its only inhabitants were the guards and the imprisoned members of Team Cap. A picture is worth a thousand words, and the Raft said a million in fewer than ten minutes.

Now for Baron Zemo. Yes, in the movie, he is not a baron. (Whoop-dee-doo, so what?) In the comics, Baron Helmut Zemo is the last of a line of German nobles who have historically had an unhealthy habit of becoming evil. It practically seems to be bred into them, a trait passed from father to son as some sort of weird genetic inheritance. I do not know if there was ever a “good” Zemo in the whole family tree.

Baron Heinrich Zemo, in the comics, was one of Cap’s World War II enemies. A Nazi scientist, Heinrich Zemo had just managed to make a super glue so powerful nothing could break the adhesive. Cap showed up at about that moment and, during the ensuing battle, broke the container for the glue. The liquid spilled onto Heinrich Zemo’s head, which was covered by a hereditary hood/mask.

The mask was then permanently stuck to Heinrich’s face by his own super glue. It made eating and a few other things a bit of a problem. After he was awakened by the Avengers, Cap eventually faced Heinrich for the last time in Brazil. Light from Steve’s shield, reflected back in Zemo’s face, threw the Baron’s shot way off course. The misfired bolt started a rockslide, which killed Heinrich Zemo. Cap saw to the Nazi’s proper burial – which is more than Heinrich Zemo would have done for him – and went home.

A few years later, Zemo suddenly showed up again. Except this Zemo is not Heinrich; it is instead his son, Helmut. The guy has hung around ever since and been nothing but a plague. He can usually be seen leading his own team of anti-Avengers, which he calls the Masters of Evil.

This is one of the things from the “mainstream” comics to make it into the Civil War film. Helmut Zemo having a wife and son is new, but his father – that is old hat. In the comics, Helmut Zemo’s entire vendetta with Cap is based on the fact that he believes Steve killed his father in Brazil. The younger Baron is unwilling to distinguish between his father’s mistake and Cap’s lucky timing. Cap made his father miss, and it does not matter to Helmut that his father’s death was, basically, inadvertent. It happened, Cap was there, and so it is his fault.

Gee, that resembles Zemo’s grudge with the Avengers in the film, now doesn’t it?

In Civil War, Zemo holds all of the Avengers responsible for the deaths of his family, including the demise of his father. Though the inclusion of the senior Zemo is a seemingly throwaway bit of story, it is actually a nod by the writers to the original storytellers. Nifty little trick, I must say.

Attack 2

This is going to surprise some people, but the next thing to point out is that amazing internecine battle at the German airport. I do not know of any Avengers battles taking place in airports in the “mainstream” comics. They probably happened; I just do not know about them. But there is an X-Men battle from the original comics which took place in an airport that I know about. And unfortunately, this airport was not empty when the fighting started!

While seeing the Professor off on a well-earned vacation one day, the X-Men were confronted by a villain calling himself Eric the Red. He had taken control of Alex Summers/Havoc, the younger brother of Scott Summers/Cyclops. (Yes, I know this order has been reversed in the new X-Men films. Another reason I hate them.) Havoc knew he was being dominated, but he could not fight off the villain’s influence. Still, he was able to talk to his older brother and the other X-Men, proving that he was aware of what Eric the Red was doing to him.

Lorna Dane/Polaris, Havoc’s mind-controlled girlfriend … not so much. She was completely under the Red’s spell, and the fight spiraled out of control when she knocked Jean Grey a good one.

Storm retaliated in kind out of fury, since she and Jean were tight friends. This counterattack by Ororo in turn enraged Havoc. Mind control or no mind control, you did not want to go after his girlfriend. Not if you wanted to keep breathing!

It is a long shot to see a parallel between these two battles, I admit. But heck, the Marvel universe is full of long shots! They both took place in an airport. If nothing else, that is an odd coincidence!

Then there is Tony recruiting Spider-Man to Team Iron. When Spidey at last realizes he was used as an “ace in the hole” by Tony Stark for Civil War, there are going to be Whigs on the green. But for now, the important part is his new suit.

Uh-huh, I just said the important part of that scene was Peter Parker being given a new suit by Tony Stark. During the “mainstream” comic book civil war event, Spidey was convinced to join the pro-Registration side of the argument by Iron Man. He revealed his identity to the world, and Tony gave him an electromechanical suit which could sprout three extra legs and shoot repulsors from the hands, among other useful tricks.

In the film, this idea is presented in a slightly different manner. Parker cobbled his original suit out of old fabric in the movie, adding a set of secondhand goggles so he could better process information. The whole effect was far from intimidating. It was not even very appealing.

Tony states he needs an upgrade, which we get to see at the German airport. This suit, while it resembles the original outfit for Spider-Man in the comics, definitely has some Stark flair added to it. The fabric is high grade, almost like a suit of nanite skin, and there are camera lenses in his mask, enabling Parker to focus in on an object, person, or some such. (The lenses can also widen to show his shock when Ant-Man becomes Giant Man!) His webshooters are also more tricked-out than they were previously.

Although the results are different, the gift is essentially the same. Tony thought Spidey’s old suit in the comics needed a little more Iron in order to better protect him. In the movie, however, Parker really was in dire need of a new, better suit. Tony messed up a lot of things in Civil War, but we have to admit he did a very good thing for Spider-Man here!

Finally, there is King T’Challa. Many will already have put this together, but here it is again. In the “mainstream” comics, the mantle of Black Panther is passed down from one warrior in the royal family to another. King T’Chaka is not mentioned as ever having been a warrior or the previous wearer of the Black Panther mantle. More’s the pity.

Anyway, in the comics, T’Challa took the responsibility of being the Black Panther after his father was defeated and killed by one Ulysses Klaw. T’Challa, a child of maybe thirteen at the time, managed to scare Klaw off – destroying his right arm in the process – after the mercenary had betrayed and killed his father. T’Challa’s uncle ruled Wakanda as regent until the prince was old enough to undergo the trials he needed to pass to take up the mantle of the Black Panther. Once that was done, T’Challa suited up, kicked Klaw’s backside, threw him in prison, and became king of Wakanda. Following on that success, he joined the Avengers.

This is similar to the story we see in the film. T’Challa only dons the suit of the Black Panther after his father’s death, so that he may avenge him. In the film, Bucky is the one who takes the rap for killing King T’Chaka, which brings T’Challa into the fight on the side of Team Iron.

A last interesting note is that, in the “mainstream” comics, Panther at first declared neutrality in the comic book civil war event. But he and his wife, Ororo Munroe/Storm, eventually sided with Cap when it became clear Tony had completely gone off the deep end and was going to run everything into the ground, probably killing someone along the way. Unfortunately, the Marvel writers still managed to have him do that. Sorry, Panther.

Well, readers, I have delivered on my promise to discuss the hint I mentioned about Wanda’s incarceration – and then some! So as of now, I will sign off and give you all a chance to have fun elsewhere.

Avengers Assemble!

The Mithril Guardian

The Science of Heroes

Avengers

Hello, Marvel Writers!

In my last note I mentioned the ongoing torture of our many Marvel favorites.   I cannot help but think that part of the reason you are mutilating the Marvel greats, fellow writers, is because you are attempting to play the role of scientist or psychologist, whichever one of these two you endeavor to shadow.

Here is the basis for this hypothesis of mine.  Some years ago I found an article in an edition of The Saturday Evening Post which talked about heroism.  The first case the writer(s) for the article used to illustrate his/her point was an incident where a man pulled over to put out a fire in the engine of a school bus.  The driver of the car did not know the bus driver, nor did he know any of the children.   But he still made the decision to pull over and assist.

To ask why he and numerous others have done such things is good.  It is always good to ask why someone did something heroic, or why they did something terrible.  This is why stories (whether they are in comic book form or not) are so important.  They are character studies that help the readers better understand the difference between right and wrong.

The problem here comes when the questioners lose sight of their objective, as the writer(s) for the Post did.  As you have done.  The questioners lose sight of the question when they ‘answer’ their question with such things as, “He just reacted.”  Or, “It was his abusive childhood that made him do/not do x.”  Or, “It is a programmed response due the effects of thousands of years of evolution.”

I am sorry, but these are not answers.  People do not simply ‘react’ unless they have either: a) trained themselves to react in a certain way (such as by practicing a family fire escape drill); or b) have been trained to react in a certain way (as soldiers are trained to react to certain situations before they go into the field).  And even then, they have a choice of reactions.

Other cases of ‘reaction’ are actually a combination of the decision to do something (i.e. pull someone free when they are trapped beneath a car) and the ability to keep thinking during a crisis.

Some would call this last instance a fluke.  In a way, they would not be mistaken; people more often than not freeze or panic when they are frightened.  So when someone keeps thinking and finds a way out of a bad situation, they are an exception to the general rule – in essence, a fluke.

In the other cases I referred to above, a person’s environment, previous or current, does not entirely influence their actions.  Case in point for the comics, Hawkeye’s lousy boyhood would suggest to some that he would take up a life of crime instead of a life as a hero, costumed or otherwise.  Did Clint Barton automatically become a criminal when he reached adulthood?  No.  This is because Hawkeye had a choice before him: follow his father, the Swordsman, and the first Trick Shot’s bad examples or choose a better path.

He chose – chose – to become a hero.  And he remains an Avenger, whether he is actively serving on the team or not, to this day.  (Once an Avenger always an Avenger.)  So his past, and the past of other characters, is not a complete or proper answer to his actions in the present.

As for heroism being a programmed response after thousands of years of evolution, it does not answer why one person in a particular crisis would choose to stop and help instead of running away screaming; or maybe even pushing the crisis along a little bit.

Crime shows such as CSI, NCIS, Castle, etc., prove that this theory does not hold water for individuals.  If heroism were an ingrained human response, like the knee-jerk reaction all doctors are familiar with, then there would be fewer crimes committed – on and off screen.

You know, fellow writers, in a way you are scientists.  You are trying to figure out “What causes a man to turn right instead of left at just the time when it is needed; a woman to say yes instead of no; a child to laugh at something instead of running away in fear.” (Star Trek: Crossroad by Barbara Hambly.)  This is the science of philosophy, the search for the truth for its own sake.  The problem here is that you are chasing down all the wrong answers.

So what IS the right answer, you ask?  I think that the right answer is this: it comes down to a choice.  The choice the individual has to make between good and evil.  Why would a child “laugh instead of running away in fear”?  Perhaps he would laugh because there was nothing to be afraid of in the first place, and he recognized this somehow.

Why would a woman “say yes instead of no”?  No is easy to say.  Yes is much harder.  How easy was it for Susan Storm to say ‘yes’ when Reed Richards asked her to marry him?  She could not be sure that they would have children.  If they did, there were certain factors which had to be considered.  The children could be born mutants.  There was, and there remains, the very possible chance that someday Franklin and his sister will be orphaned.  Someday, both Sue and Reed fear that they may have to give their lives so their children can live in relative safety, leaving their two children, whom they love dearly, in the care of others.

Yet the Invisible Woman still said, “Yes.”

Why would a man “turn right instead of left”?  Maybe he went right because the path to the left was just too easy.  Maybe because, “Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny.” (Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back).  It is much harder to climb upward than it is to descend downward.  Skiing is good proof of this.  How easy is it to walk all the way up the mountain after going down?  If it were easy, they would not have invented ski lifts.

This is the best answer I have been able to find for the question of why people do heroic things.  Every man, woman, and child has to make a decision between right and wrong.  Characters that choose to do what is right – characters such as Hawkeye, Luke Cage, Falcon, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, Wolverine, the Hulk, and oh, so many others – prove that good is the better choice although it is also the harder one.  They stand as witness to the rewards of a hard choice.

Just so, characters such as Trickshot, Sabertooth, Emma Frost, Dr. Doom, Mister Sinister, Magneto, Mystique, the Red Skull, etc., stand as warnings about the cost of taking the ‘easy’ path.  When Hawkeye stands face to face with Trickshot, it is easy to see that, while they are brothers, one is the stronger of the two.  And I will tell you this: it is not Trickshot who stands firmer than his younger brother!

In the end, who would we rather be?  The scarred hero or the comfortable villain (I am thinking about the Kingpin here)?  Even with all its hardship, good has more rewards than evil.

So what will it be, fellow writers, fellow philosophers, fellow scientists of the human condition?  What will your choice be?  Do you continue chasing the red herrings, or do you hunt the fox?

For my part, I will continue to hunt the fox.

EXCELSIOR!!!!

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Philosophical True Believer)

The Purpose of Heroes

Assemble!

Hello, Marvel Writers!

      “A man needs heroes.  He needs to believe in strength, nobility, and courage.  Otherwise we become sheep to be herded to the slaughterhouse of death.  I believe this.  I am a soldier.  I try to fight for the right cause.  Sometimes it is not easy to know.

      “But I do not sit back and sneer in cowardice at those with the courage to fight.  The blood of good men makes the earth rich, as it is here.  When I die sword in hand, I hope someone lives to sing of it.  I live my life so that when death comes I may die well.  I ask no more.”

Sackett’s Land by Louis L’Amour

So wrote Louis L’Amour, best known perhaps for his novels of the Old West such as Hondo, Last Stand at Papago Wells, The Quick and the Dead, The Californios, and numerous others.

Stan Lee started something great when he penned the first Fantastic Four comic book.  He gave readers a glimpse of a universe with heroes, human in that they had flaws and foibles, but magnificent in how they rose above those things when necessity demanded their utmost in courage.

They had, and have, tempers.  They got and get sick, they broke and still break bones, and they retired and still retire (at least for a time) when they were and are emotionally drained.  And yes, they made and continue to make mistakes.  They fought and still fight with each other as much as with their enemies.

But despite all that, they were still heroes.  That’s why people continue to read about their adventures; why they go in droves to view the movies at the theaters.  If these flawed, breakable people can stand up to an evil, no matter the pain they’re in, no matter how tired they are, and say, “No.” – then why can’t we, the fans, do the same?

Yes, Iron Man, Cap, and most definitely Thor, are not real.  No one is going to be walking down Fifth Avenue and have to jump out of the way of a battling Yellowjacket and Ultron.  But what if one of us readers or viewers someday ends up with a choice between helping someone or saving ourselves in a crisis?  What role model will we have to steady us as we say, “No, I will do what is right.  I will help.”

Not all of us have great real life role models.  There are many fortunate people who do, but what about those who don’t?  What are they going to have to inspire them?  The answer is heroes.  Even if they are fictional – and there is no shortage of them inside or outside of comics and theaters – they are characters we can relate to more strongly than we can relate to actual flesh and blood people from time to time, especially in hazardous situations.

I’ve already listed several of the Marvel characters whose behavior of late has been less than inspiring.  None of it sounds particularly heroic when compared with earlier Marvel stories, does it?  So far Captain America has been the only hero to stay anywhere near heroic on and off the battlefield.

But how much longer is that going to last?  He’s already been ‘killed’ once, and he has been changed into at least three different animals in the same number of stories: a wolf, a tyrannosaurus rex, and don’t get me started on the incident where he ended up a spider.  That plot line was absolutely and completely disgusting.

How long can this go on?  How long will readers pay to read comics that spin their wheels in amoral mud?  And if the movies become as depressing as the comics, only the television shows will remain.  How long will it be before those are gone as well?

What I’m trying to say, fellow writers, is that people don’t need stories by ‘artists.’  It’s nice, and they’re great reads.  However, art usually comes about when the author isn’t striving for it, but for story and character.  Moreover, readers don’t want ‘stories’ that ‘delve into the human psyche.’  Psychologists are available if people want a psych evaluation.

What readers and viewers want – and what they need – are good stories well told with heroes who espouse morality and great ideals.  That’s all they want.

And unfortunately, my friends, right now we’re not getting it.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Troubled and Frustrated True Believer)

Poker – Gambit Style

Gambit

Hello, Marvel Writers!

Bonjour.  C’est la vie, as the French say.  And the Cajuns of Louisiana – which brings us to the next Marvel character under discussion here: Remy LeBeau, a.k.a. Gambit.

The first introduction I had to Gambit was in the 90’s television series.  His back story there is one I have often found to be a likeable twist of storytelling: a thief (or other sundry character) joining a team of good guys to be reformed into a real hero.  It was great to see Rogue and Gambit fight – as much with each other as with the bad guys!  Because of her powers, Rogue wouldn’t let Gambit get close to her, but it was clear that he really did love her, and vice versa.

Now that you see how the TV series shaped my opinion of the character, imagine my consternation when I began reading about his comic book history.

Much of it makes very little sense to me, I admit: the few X-Men comics I have are fragments of story arcs, and the ones that include Gambit have him pretty close to what I saw in the TV series.  So the winding maze of his life events in the comics are lost on me faster than a cat would get lost in a pile of yarn.  The two things that did jump out at me were: a) his assistance in the slaughter of the Morlocks (aside from one small girl he purposely rescued), and b) his expulsion from the X-Men.

To both, all I can say is, “What?  How did this happen?  Why did this happen?”

Gambit has always had a soft spot for children (as shown in how he treated Jubilee in the TV series) which has been more likeable than his tendency to flirt with every lady he meets.  If there is a list out there of the top ten flirts in Marvel Comics, I hereby nominate Gambit for first place!

To get back to the point, I can easily see Gambit working to protect a Morlock child from death; but aiding and abetting the killing of countless other Morlocks, several of whom were also undoubtedly children?  That’s not the Gambit I came to know.  He wouldn’t have helped; he’d have turned on his employer (Mister Sinister, I believe it was, in these comics) first, and died before he got too far into the tunnels rather than commit murder.

As for his expulsion from the X-Men, it’s uncharacteristic of the X-Men on its face.  The X-Men have accepted Wolverine as a teammate, Archangel, Emma Frost, and even Mystique at one point.  Wolvie’s record is far from clean; Archangel has been used by several bad guys to kill numerous innocents, and more perhaps when he’s ‘lost’ himself in misery or pain; Emma Frost is constantly shifting between good and bad, and DO NOT get me started on Mystique.  So after accepting these and other less-than-good citizens of the Marvel universe into the fold, suddenly the X-Men decide that Gambit’s not good enough for the team, after all he’s done for it?  That’s a bit out of character, isn’t it?

And sending him back to work for Sinister is just plain wrong.  Once bitten, twice shy.  Sinister is trouble, and being a thief for as long as he was, Gambit would know better than to risk his neck by running with a man who wouldn’t think twice about slitting his throat.

To top it off, the whole fiasco has thrown a giant monkey wrench in the romance that he and Rogue had going.  Talk about a sad thing.  After Jean and Scott, Rogue and Gambit were two of the X-Men who deserved to be together romantically.  Getting them married would also have been a big plus, and a way overdue event for the team.

Why do this to Gambit at all?  Was it to make him a more complex, or appealing, character?  He was already both with his easy manner, which hid a genuine distaste for his past actions and a desire to leave them behind.  Was it to make him a really dark, really noir protagonist?

Why?  All it’s done is to ruin him as a hero.  Gambit was an intriguing member of the team for his remarkable desire to be good cloaked in nonchalance.  Now he morally resembles the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

With all due respect, fellow writers, he really didn’t need a slime bath.  He was just fine the way he was, and readers are going to miss the old Gambit, as they are going to miss other wrecked characters, several of whom I have listed in other letters.

So au revoir, fellow writers!  The aces are in your hands. All we True Believers have got at the moment are a set of black eights.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Troubled True Believer)

Cyclops and Wolverine

Cyclops and Wolverine

Hello, Marvel Writers!

Round Five, people!  This time we go over to X-Men characters Cyclops and Wolverine.  So let’s start with the obvious question: why have these two polar opposites been switched?

Cyclops has, recently, been turning from stalwart leader (or ‘teacher’s pet’ in Logan’s book) to mass murderer on a scale that would make Magneto cheer and dance.  Meanwhile, Wolverine has exchanged most of his berserker temper for the chance to be a principled leader of the X-Men.  Until he deems it necessary to finally take someone down, that is; something he only does in private.

What, exactly, did I miss?

Wolverine was never this gentle except to girls (Shadowcat, Rogue, and Jubilee, for starters).  In the case of the latter two youngsters, this was because he empathized with their tortured or lost emotional states; while Shadowcat needed a strong man she could relate to almost as a fighting father-figure (she already had the female equivalent with Storm).  At the same time, all three girls gave Wolvie an extra purpose to keep fighting: a young innocent to protect at all costs so they wouldn’t end up like him, dead, or worse than dead.

Cyclops’s job was to get the plan ready and execute it, all the while staying true to the principles of Professor X.  He was the young King Arthur to Professor X’s Merlin; he listened, did what he was told, and everything got accomplished in (almost) the right way.  It was no picnic, to be sure, but it was the right thing to do.  To help keep him on the straight and narrow was Jean Grey, his Queen Guinevere who was loved by Wolverine but, unlike Arthur’s wife, stayed true to her love (when her mind wasn’t being manipulated or something of that sort).

Now the positions have been reversed: Cyclops has exchanged Professor X’s teaching for the speeches and ‘grand’ gestures of Magneto while Wolverine has suddenly straightened up and keeps his claws sheathed until necessity demands they be bared.

Why?

It seems that Jean Grey’s inexplicably permanent death (at least in the ‘present’ time of the recent comics) is the root of this change.  On top of that, with the Professor’s sudden loss of direction in his teaching and without Jean to hold him straight, Cyclops is being dunked into his baser nature – and wallowing in it.

Yet Jean’s ‘death’ has had the opposite effect on her clawed knight.  Instead of reverting to his brutish tendencies as he has in the past when she ‘died’, Wolverine has decided to become civilized and adhere to the Professor’s original statutes; at least until such time as his animal rage needs to be unleashed to stop a villain permanently (or as permanently as it has ever been in the comics).

While Jean Grey and Scott Summers have never been favorites of mine, they have been two of the strongest pillars in the X-Men comics, keeping the team on the path of right and forbidding them to go wrong.  Without that support, the X-Men have begun to deteriorate.  Already the team is split: half of the team is firmly entrenched behind Wolverine on the unsteady ethical high ground while the other half blindly follows Cyclops into the moral sewers.  Others can’t make up their mind and spend their time bouncing between both factions while ‘trying’ to do the right thing when they’re not being stretched by opposing loyalties.  It’s total chaos.

The X-Men were a great story because they stood on the principles of right; not only facing evil mutants but a world that would largely be ruled by people in power who had a hatred of them for simply being born different.  Despite saving the world a thousand times in a thousand different ways, there would be people who remained committed to their destruction, just as there would remain villains bent on conquering the planet.  They knew that, and no matter how hard it was going to be to deal with this double hatred, they weren’t going to abandon their post.  That was what made the X-Men strong.

And that, fellow writers, is what has been lost through the latest events in the X-Men comics and Avengers vs. X-Men.

Sincerely,

Mithril (A Troubled True Believer)